Rosalynde Welch, with her characteristic intelligence, has laid down a concise, cogent, and challenging explanation of why American Mormon authors tend to congregate in “genre” categories, like science-fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, or some combination thereof, rather than pursue “serious literary fiction”:
Mormon culture values the superior performance of shared forms over originality of artistic vision. I’m using “performance” here to mean an affirmative partaking of a traditionally-valued form, without irony or subversion. Most Mormon contributions to American popular culture fall firmly within this category….The experience of powerful identification and unity with the faith community is central to our religious practice, and we love to build (occasionally kludgy) institutions, programs, domestic rituals, and community events that facilitate that experience: think of Family Home Evening, road shows, testimony meetings, Girls Camp, firesides. To read a novel in which a familiar narrative structure is affirmed and shared among readers and between author and audience is to reproduce that powerful experience of communal identification and unity within a discursive institution. What this means is that most Mormon literature can be defined right out of the category of “literary fiction,” which privileges individual vision, subversive irony, and an alienated perspective. For the Mormon writer, by contrast, it is precisely the accessibility of the genres that makes them successful cultural figures for an affirmative performance….Mormon writers embrace received forms through the superior performance of the same to affirm a cultural ethos of communal partaking. And it certainly doesn’t hurt if the love interest takes off his shirt now and then.
I don’t think this is anything like a truly new insight, but it is a well-stated insight all the same. And, to those of a critical bent, like myself, it poses a challenge, especially since Rosalynde’s whole aim in the linked essay is to suggest answers to the sorts of questions which critics ask: whether any Mormon writers have “devised new unique artistic forms from their religious milieu,” and, if not, whether Mormon artists “demonstrate a characteristic relationship to inherited literary genres.” Her answers, pretty definitively, are, first, no, Mormons as a whole have not developed any unique artistic forms, and shouldn’t be expected to any time soon, and second, yes, Mormons, due to our “communitarian ethos and homely ritual practices,” absolutely are going commitment ourselves to working in established, well-defined genres. Kind of puts a new spin on the whole, hoary, “Where are our Shakespeares?” question, doesn’t it? The more reasonable question, Rosalynde suggests, is “Who are our Stephen Kings, Larry Nivens, Tony Hillermans, Terry Pratchetts, and Jude Devereauxs?”